Authorizers are the entities granted authority by a legislature to approve, oversee, renew, and close charter schools. These are typically public agencies, such as local school districts (LEAs) and state departments of education (also referred to as state educational agencies or SEAs). In some states, however, the legislature may grant noneducational governmental agencies authorizing ability as well; examples include municipality or mayor's offices (NEGs), higher education institutions (HEIs), independent charter boards (ICBs), and nonprofit organizations (NPOs).
Authorizers play an important role in the charter sector. These entities decide whether a school may open and what standards must be met for it to remain open. They also have the power to determine if a school must close. Charter schools must demonstrate success to retain and renew their charter, and authorizers hold these schools to the same (or often higher) accountability standards to which district schools are held. The National Alliance’s model law recommends a state allow multiple authorizer entities (i.e., grant authorizing ability to an entity other than the LEA). However, to date, 14 states only offer one authorizing option, and eight only allow LEAs to authorize charter schools. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers defines which types of authorizers are allowed and operating in each state in their helpful resource Authorizer Types Across the Country.
LEA authorizers enrolled the largest share of charter school students (48%) in the 2019-20 school year, and they oversaw 47% of all charter schools. LEAs are overwhelmingly the most prevalent type of authorizer, with nearly 90% of the 921 authorizers across the country being LEAs. However, despite the overall prominence of LEAs, SEAs, and ICBs authorize a relatively large number of schools per entity. There are only 21 SEA authorizers nationwide, yet these entities enroll 23% of charter students and oversee 22% of charter schools and campuses. Similarly, ICBs authorize approximately 15% of student enrollment, as well as approximately 15% of schools and campuses. NPO authorizers exist only in Ohio and Minnesota, while the two NEG authorizers operate only in Indiana, which likely explains why those two entity types are the fewest in number.
Table 6.1: Authorizer Type by Count of Authorizers, Enrollment Share, and School and Campus Share, 2020-21
|Authorizer Type||Count of Authorizers||Enrollment Share||School and Campus Share|
The top 10 LEA, SEA, ICB, and HEI authorizers with the largest total enrollment account for 60% of all charter school students. We have listed these entities in the tables below. We do not include top 10 lists for NPO and NEG authorizers in this analysis because of their small overall size.
The largest LEA authorizer by enrollment total is the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). With 148,719 students, LAUSD alone accounts for more than 4% of the nation’s charter school students. Unsurprisingly, however, the LEA authorizers with highest enrollment levels are those located in dense urban areas or highly populated counties with many charter schools.
TABLE 6.2 TOP 10 LEA AUTHORIZERS BY TOTAL ENROLLMENT, 2019-20
|Los Angeles Unified School District||148,719|
|Miami Dade County Public Schools-Charter School Operations||72,976|
|Philadelphia School District||67,326|
|Chicago Public Schools||55,731|
|Broward County Public Schools||47,491|
|Orleans Parish School District||45,378|
|Hillsborough County Public Schools||27,833|
|New York City Chancellor's Office||22,951|
|Palm Beach School District||21,412|
|Denver Public Schools||21,080|
The largest SEA authorizer by enrollment is the Texas Education Agency (TEA). TEA authorizes charter schools attended by nearly 90% of Texas charter school students, which is significant given the state’s status as one of the biggest charter sectors nationwide. TEA enrolls approximately 10% of charter school students in the United States. The North Carolina Department of Education, New Jersey Department of Education, and Massachusetts Department of Education, which also have some of the highest enrollment levels, each account for 99-100% of charter students in their states.
Table 6.3: Top 10 SEA Authorizers
|Texas Education Agency||335,412|
|North Carolina Department of Education||117,348|
|New Jersey Department of Education||55,483|
|Massachusetts Department of Education||47,750|
|Pennsylvania Department of Education||38,242|
|Arkansas State Board of Education||35,464|
|New York State Education Department||35,120|
|Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education||29,517|
|New Mexico Public Education Commission||15,232|
|Delaware State Board of Education||14,815|
The Arizona State Board for Charter schools (ASBCS) is by far the most prominent ICB authorizer as of the 2019-20 school year. ASBCS enrolls 210,119 charter school students, which is approximately 6% of all charter students nationwide and almost 99% of all charter school students in the state of Arizona. Other top ICBs also appear to be the primary authorizers in their respective states. The Utah State Charter Board, Nevada State Public Charter Authority, and the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board each account for approximately 80%-100% of charter school students in their jurisdictions. In this way, many ICBs appear similar to SEAs in that they are broad, state-wide charter authorizers.
Table 6.4: Top 10 ICB Authorizers
|Arizona State Board for Charter Schools||210,119|
|Utah State Charter School Board||74,624|
|Nevada State Public Charter School Authority||46,252|
|District of Columbia Public Charter School Board||37,729|
|Georgia State Charter School Commission||33,199|
|Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board||20,531|
|Idaho Public Charter School Commission||20,389|
|South Carolina Public Charter School District||18,741|
|Charter School Institute (CO)||18,275|
|Hawaii Charter School Administrative Office||11,896|
Among HEI authorizers, New York’s SUNY Charter Schools Institute had the greatest total enrollment for the 2019-20 school year by a wide margin. With 100,027 students, the SUNY Charter Schools Institute accounts for nearly 3% of nationwide charter school student enrollment and about 60% of New York charter school student enrollment. HEI authorizers in general make up only about 10% of the charter sector in terms of both schools and students. It is notable that six of the top 10 HEI authorizing agencies are based in Michigan.
Table 6.5: Top 10 HEI Authorizers
|State University of New York Charter Schools Institute||100,027|
|Grand Valley State University, Charter Schools Office (MI)||33,665|
|Ohio Council of Community Schools||32,758|
|The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University||28,157|
|Bay Mills Community College Charter Schools Office (MI)||23,412|
|Ball State University Office of Charter Schools (IN)||15,448|
|Rose State College (OK)||10,962|
|Saginaw Valley State University (MI)||10,932|
|Ferris State University (MI)||9,313|
|Lake Superior State University Charter Schools Office, Technical Academy Group (MI)||9,270|